I’ve been involved with Moms Demand Action since 2018. The horrific mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, is what got me off of the sidelines.
Mass shootings shock our collective consciousness and can be what initially propels many of us to join this movement, but it is the day-to-day gun violence plaguing Black communities that drives me to continue this work today. I truly believe it is the unglamorous, painstaking, unrelenting, and grassroots grind that will be the key to ending gun violence in our country.
One of my favorite sayings when it comes to policy is the phrase that began with disability justice advocates, “Nothing about us, without us.” Black folks know a thing or two about gun violence because it’s a lived experience for so many. If you don’t have Black voices in the conversations around gun violence prevention at every level, you won’t have the necessary information to get to your goal. If your goal is ending gun violence, you cannot get there without including, listening to, and elevating Black voices—full stop.
I’m hopeful that the gun violence prevention movement has shifted focus to a community-based violence intervention strategy. Passing laws to prevent guns from getting into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them is important, but we are not going to incarcerate our way out of this problem.
The communities that are grappling with the highest rates of gun violence are the very same communities with the least resources and are often the most policed. As city and state leaders recognize that a heavy-handed, law-and-order-style approach is not only ineffective, but also harmful to those who are disproportionately affected by gun violence, I am hopeful that we’ll start investing in the things we know reduce violence as a whole: Economic stability, health care, and education.
I recently met Lionel Irving, a formerly incarcerated Black man, who is doing amazing work in Portland, Oregon. He is working in his community as a violence interrupter, mentor, and leader of a movement to end the cycle of violence in the Black community. He started an organization called Love Is Stronger, and Portland is a better city because of him.
Love Is Stronger is made up of former gang members (Irving calls them “gang veterans”) who are now using their life experiences to help kids and families protect themselves and each other from the violent cycles that have claimed so many lives in our city. I am excited by the work he is doing because his approach is to stop violence before it starts. His approach is also holistic and addresses the root cause of gun violence: Trauma.
Irving shows a level of vulnerability when he tells his story that I don’t often see from others, and I think that’s what makes him a powerful force. I learn from and am inspired by him every time I hear him speak. I also gain a better understanding of what Black boys and girls, caught up in the cycle of violence, are confronting every single day. That knowledge helps to inform and motivate my work with Moms Demand Action.
For people who are working to continue empowering communities that have been deeply impacted by trauma, it is important to continue to show up in those communities. Show up and listen. Show up and volunteer for groups already working in those communities. Show up and offer your skills, time, or financial resources. Just show up.
You don’t have to know all the right words to say or have all the answers. When you show up and connect with people in an authentic way, you’re helping to build community resiliency by being someone who can be counted on. It can be exhausting—and it’s important to take care of yourself—but it can also be beautiful, inspiring, and life-changing.
If I’m being honest, it’s not always easy being a Black woman in my home state of Oregon. There is a history of white supremacy history that is still hard to erase. The Moms Demand Action Black Caucus group meetings have given me a chance to not be the only Black woman in the room. It is a safe place to ask questions and for advice. But mostly, it’s been an absolute pleasure for me to sit back, listen to stories, recharge my spirit, and let my guard down. It’s one of my favorite things about being part of Moms Demand Action.
I’m driven to do this gun violence prevention work because doing nothing isn’t an option. Familiar to many of us in this movement is a quote from Joan Baez: “Action is the antidote to despair.” And I will not despair—I will continue to work.
Cicely Thrasher (she/her)
Cicely Thrasher is a volunteer with Moms Demand Action and co-lead of the Oregon Moms Demand Action chapter.